Detroit News. January 14, 2021.
Editorial: Charges against Snyder risk criminalizing public service
Attorney General Dana Nessel’s decision to charge former Gov. Rick Snyder and members of his administration in the Flint water crisis sets a dangerous precedent that could, depending on the outcome, make public service a high-risk enterprise.
She bears the tremendous responsibility to demonstrate that the charges are warranted and not the product of a political vendetta.
The public was left with little background, however, following the announced charges. Nessel’s office should have been much more transparent on such a major charging decision.
The charges against Snyder seek to hold him criminally responsible for policymaking that went bad. He faces two charges of willful neglect of duty for neglecting “his mandatory legal duties under the Michigan constitution and the Emergency Management Act, thereby failing to protect the health and safety of Flint’s residents.”
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, not every decision made by government during the heat of a crisis turns out as well as intended.
But a distinction must be drawn between bad choices honestly made and ill intent, corruption and fraud — the allegations typically raised against office-holders.
Snyder signed off on the plan to switch Flint’s water source to the Flint River — acting on the advice of his team and with some support from city officials.
The complaint against him is dated April 25, 2014, the day of the water changeover, indicating that’s when Nessel will contend the crime was committed.
Snyder agreed to pull the city out of the Detroit Regional Water Authority at the urging of city officials, who felt Flint was being overcharged, and the state-appointed emergency manager who was overseeing the city.
It was not a hasty decision. And it might have turned out OK had Flint water department workers added the necessary chemicals to the water to prevent lead from leaching out of old pipes. Snyder could not have known that mistake was made.
We’ve noted that Snyder was slow in acting when complaints about Flint’s drinking water were raised, and some of his decisions as the crisis unfolded are fair game for second-guessing. But again, not picking the right strategy does not necessarily constitute negligence.
Some of the charges against Snyder’s team are linked to several deaths from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint.
Those deaths still can’t be positively linked to the water system switch.
A study by the Michigan Health and Human Services Department concluded more than two-thirds of the Legionnaires’ victims did not live in a household served by the Flint water department.
The same report identified the common link between the victims and a local hospital, and not the water system.
Snyder has said he acted on his best advice and instincts in managing the Flint situation. Those from his administration who were charged along with him, including Rich Baird, his most trusted lieutenant, and former Health Director Nick Lyon, have also said they were acting on the best information available at the time. Many were following the directions of their superiors.
Obviously, public officials shouldn’t be immune from prosecution for criminal activity or a cover-up. Nor should they be subject to undue persecution when one party leaves office and another takes over.
This move by the highly partisan Nessel, a Democrat, could easily be taken as politically motivated against the former Republican governor, and pandering to a constituency that has demanded Snyder be held accountable for Flint.
The risk here is of criminalizing public service.
If the charges prove unwarranted, it will send a clear message that public service is a high risk enterprise and will serve to discourage good people from entering the government.
The former governor may have made mistakes — he acknowledged as much. But whether they rise to the level of criminal misconduct, as Nessel’s mass indictment indicates, has yet to be proved.
Traverse City Record Eagle. January 15, 2021.
Editorial: Lawmakers taking on transparency reform is a great first step
It’s an understatement to say Michigan’s government transparency record is dismal.
The state regularly lands on the wrong end of worst-in-the-nation rankings for government accountability. Those ratings, lists that often place our state at or near the wrong end, repeatedly highlight inadequate open records and open meetings laws. They also point toward a wholesale exemption lawmakers and the governor enjoy from the Freedom of Information Act.
Maybe that’s why we were encouraged by remarks made this week by the recently seated speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives.
Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, seemed to plant a priority in government accountability and transparency in the first days of his tenure.
“Anything that improves the transparency and accountability of government is on the table,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
We hope he means it. More, we hope Wentworth puts some action to those words and does something to finally lift our state from the murky end of those rankings. We hope he, and his lawmaking colleagues, see fit to finally rectify the abhorrent blockades that allow those doing the public’s business to effectively shield themselves from public view.
Those reforms should include making both the legislature and the governor subject to FOIA; fixing gaps in the law that allow government agencies to delay release of records arbitrarily as a matter of practice; and eliminating the absurd language that allows bureaucrats to charge thousands of dollars for the release of documents created, catalogued, and maintained with taxpayer dollars.
Sure, we probably have a little more experience with these regulations than most Michiganders, and therefore we carry a little more animosity toward their shortcomings.
But fixing the structures that cut our governance and its execution from public view probably is one of the most meaningful public service projects lawmakers could tackle.
For decades, those who become comfortable either in elected office or inside the bureaucracy have worked against any reform that would bring meaningful transparency to our state. In fact, resistance to transparency reforms seems to come from all corners.
Likewise, government transparency is, in our view, the single most nonpartisan issue in our state. If we, the taxpayers are footing the bill, shouldn’t we have a right to inspect the fruits of our investment?
For those reasons, we hope Speaker Wentworth succeeds in his pledge to bring transparency to Michigan government.
The Mining Journal. January 13, 2021.
Editorial: Ban on Capitol open carry wise but didn’t go far enough
The Michigan State Capitol Commission earlier this week banned the open carry of firearms in Michigan’s Capitol.
Good move, but it didn’t go far enough.
The timing was right to do this. Most of us know what happened on Jan. 6 when an out-of-control mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in the deaths of five people and caused a great deal of destruction and mayhem.
The rioters — and we’re not calling them protesters, because that would be too generous and highly inaccurate — were angry over what they believed was an unfair presidential election outcome.
Joe Biden decisively beat incumbent Donald Trump, to their dismay.
They didn’t want to go away quietly, and they might not want to disappear into the mist in the upcoming days. That’s why the commission’s decision was fortuitous.
Moves to ban weapons at Michigan’s Capitol have been pushed since April, according to the Associated Press, when many individuals — some armed with long rifles and other weapons — entered the statehouse and demanded to be allowed on to the floor of a legislative chamber that was closed to the public.
Now the commission has changed its tune, appropriately, we believe.
Tensions are high that unrest may take place not only in Washington, D.C, but state capitals as well. The AP reported that the FBI has warned of plans for armed protests in the days leading up to the inauguration on Jan. 20.
Here at The Mining Journal, we support the Second Amendment. We always have. Owning and using firearms is entirely appropriate. But there’s a place for everything.
The state capitol is not a place where guns should be, unless they are in the possession of police or similar personnel.
The commission should have banned all firearms from the capitol, but this is a good first step.